Fishing The Bourbeuse River in East-Central Missouri

By Marc Rogers


Fishing The Bourbeuse River

The Bourbeuse River is located in East Central Missouri and flows through five counties.It is a low land river with gravel and sand bottom. This river is one of two tributaries to the Meramec River; the other is the Big River.

The Bourbeuse River starts in Phelps County and flows 147 miles to the mouth at Moselle, Missouri where it drains into the Meramec River. There are only 53 miles between the source and the mouth if flown in an aircraft. The river has a large watershed area of over 800 square miles and can become quite muddy during moderate to heavy rains. Bourbeuse means “muddy” in French and it is quite obvious how it got its name during rainy seasons.

There are not many public accesses to the river as it meanders through mostly private land. The Missouri Department of Conservation has established a few public accesses along the way and a few have concrete boat ramps.There are few boat and canoe rental businesses that service the Bourbeuse River so the traffic on the river is light even during the busy float trip season. Light traffic almost always gives way to better fishing conditions.

I have personally fished the Bourbeuse River from the State Highway 19 Bridge north of Cuba, Missouri all the way to the mouth at Moselle, Missouri. The best fishing I have found is about two miles downstream from the Highway 19 Bridge. However, the access to the river can be challenging as a boat or canoe must be dragged up and down steep embankments to launch.

The easiest access to fish this river is near the town of Union, Missouri. There is a stretch of water that is approximately 11 miles long and has a concrete boat ramp at the put-in and the take-out sites. The launch site is a Missouri Department of Conservation property called Mayer’s Landing. There is ample parking and a one-lane concrete boat ramp. The area is located off Highway UU a few miles Northwest of Union, Missouri.The take-out site is located in the town of Union about 100 yards up-stream from the Highway 50 Bridge. This access is also owned by the Missouri Department of Conservation and features a concrete boat ramp.

It is easiest to take your own watercraft on these excursions but it does require two vehicles, as the anglers will need a ride back to the put-in location once the float is over. A canoe is sufficient for this outing but a small flat-bottom boat is more stable for the novice and creates less a chance of turning over.

The Bourbeuse is a river that flows slowly as it meanders along its path. I recommend taking an electric motor for use in the long slow-water pools you will encounter.A boat equipped with a jet-drive outboard can be used in this river but it should be a small craft as there are still places it may have to be moved by pushing. Floating, I have found, is still the best way to approach this water.

There is one boat and canoe rental business that services this area. It is called Don’s Bait and Canoe Rental and located in St. Clair, Missouri.They do a great job with put-in and take-out on a timely schedule. I have used them several years ago and was very pleased with the service provided.

The best approach to fishing this river is with small lures and a medium action rod and reel set-up. I recommend taking a minimum of three rods with one being a medium-action spinning outfit.The spinning outfit is capable of casting some lures that many anglers are not proficient enough to cast with a casting – level wind – reel. The reason for three rod and reels is that equipment can break down or become damaged and floating the river without the ability to fish due to not having enough gear makes for a long day.

A small tackle box with an assortment of small shallow to medium depth crankbaits, ¼ ounce spinnerbaits and buzzbaits is ideal. Include some small soft plastic crawdad imitator with stand up jig heads as well as a few finesse jigs in ¼ ounce weights. Small tackle will catch big bass and the Bourbeuse holds Largemouth, Smallmouth and Spotted Bass that will test your medium action tackle.It is not uncommon to catch bass from the river in the 3 – 4 pound class and I have heard of bass bigger than five pounds taken from the same waters.

Your crankbait selection should include the Rapala Fat Rap (FR5) in crawdad color. This has proven to be the most effective crankbait for me in this river. Gene Larew Salt Craws and Baby Salt Craws in natural colors as well as the Zoom Critter Craw will take bass from the bottom of the deeper holes. You should also try the Gambler Crawdaddy used with the ¼ ounce Giggy Head. Buzzbaits with chartreuse and white skirts create explosive strikes from both Largemouth and Smallmouth when they are chasing baitfish. Also, spinnerbaits should have nickel or gold willow leaf and Colorado blades in tandem with chartreuse and white skirts.

During the dry seasons the Bourbeuse River generally has water that is green in color with visibility of approximately three feet. However, during periods of rain this river becomes very muddy due to the vast low-lying watershed area and visibility is near zero. Many times just hours after a hard rain the river will begin to rise quickly as the muddy runoff pours in. Just a few days of dry weather will allow the Bourbeuse to recede and clear as it is quick to recover from heavy rainfall.

For more information on public access to the Bourbeuse River and all of the streams in Missouri consult a paperback publication from the Missouri Department of Conservation called “A Paddler’s Guide To Missouri”.It is available for $6.00 online at http://MDC.MO.Gov.



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